Final Fantasy VII just just started celebrating the 20th anniversary of its international release on October 2, 1997. Widely regarded as the best game in the Final Fantasy series, FF7 is also proclaimed as one of the best RPGs of all time. That's high praise for any game -- let alone one in a series that essentially made the RPG genre what it is today.
But what about this game makes it so special for so many people? Is it the mold-breaking story, the grand scale of the entire game, or the memorable characters? We asked our GameSkinny staff and community writers that same question, and here is what they had to say about how FF7 impacted them as gamers and shaped their gaming passions moving forward.
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For Senior Mentor LuckyJorael, Final Fantasy 7 was the perfect combination of story, world-building, and character -- all coming together to create something unique and inspiring.
"I switched off playing FF7 with my best friend at the time...We were both in utter awe as we watched the cinematics, and loved every single second of it. We did every side quest and killed every Weapon, gathered all the Materia we could find, and bred Chocobos until we finally got a black one. We totally didn't cry when Sephiroth killed Aeris -- and argued later about why we couldn't just use a Phoenix Down to revive her. Once we beat the game, we both just kind of sat back on his old couch, absorbing the adventure we had just gone on, and the fact that it was over.
Then we played it again from the start.
FF7 really set the stage for my love of RPGs. From 7, I went on to play Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, as well as FF8 and 10, and I've spent thousands of hours playing Final Fantasy Tactics -- the original on PS1, War of the Lions on my PSP before I left it on a plane, and War of the Lions again on my iPad. FF7 guided me to what a good game was and what games could achieve. Even as a kid, I knew that sensationalist news about games making kids violent and games not being art was complete crap. I had proof that both statements were wrong."
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ActionJ4ck's experience with Final Fantasy 7 is a similar testament to the game's quality of design. For this GS Senior Mentor, encountering the game almost 15 years after its initial release didn't diminish any of its great qualities.
"Unlike a lot of people, I actually played Final Fantasy VII for the first time on PC in 2013. I had been a big Final Fantasy fan for a while at that point and had obviously heard all the fanfare surrounding the game, but I went in unsure of whether I was about to experience a timeless classic or something that was surely impressive at the time, but has not aged well.
I ended up completing it in about a week of very dedicated play. I wouldn't say that I was blown away by it or that it was even my favorite Final Fantasy game, but I also couldn't deny that it was a fantastically-crafted game that held up very well -- and if I had first played it back when it was initially released, it probably would have changed my perspective of gaming. The pacing was excellent for a JRPG, the story was better written and more coherent than most of its genre counterparts, and the graphics were much better than most of what I played back in the day. All in all, I felt that even with the passing of time, Final Fantasy VII truly exemplifies the best that a JRPG can be."
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A game with these qualities does not easily fade from memory . Alongside a sense of nostalgia -- a powerful force of its own -- games like FF7 often create powerful emotional connections between the player, characters, and story, as writer Kengaskhan discovered.
"I was pretty young when I first played Final Fantasy VII...I was in middle school at the time, so I would've been around 10 or 11 years old. To be honest, I only had a superficial understanding of the plot, but it was one of the first times I actually paid any attention to a game's story, and there are some things about the game that I don't think I'll ever forget. I'm not going to say that FF7 is my favorite game (though it certainly was at the time), but I firmly believe that it's why I got into gaming.
You'd probably guess that I'd beaten FF7 multiple times by now, but I've actually only played through it twice. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to play the game a second time until very recently, as the game CDs were lost when we renovated our basement...So for over a decade, all I had for FF7 were these very fond memories for a game that I only sort-of-remembered -- an undying nostalgia that slowly intensified as the years passed.
I remembered watching my dad play, and [him] quitting the game when he got stuck like 15 minutes into the game when he couldn't climb a staircase (I picked up where he left off). I remembered wandering through the Sector 5, 6, and 7 slums and thinking, "Wow, this place is pretty charming despite being a total dump," although maybe not quite that articulately. I remembered that feeling of dread when I had to fight those inexplicably alien creatures Sephiroth left in his wake at the Shinra Headquarters. I remembered not understanding how to navigate Gold Saucer. I remembered calling Red XIII "Red 7" and how I always made sure to include him in my party. I remembered the music.
During my second playthrough a few years back, something pretty peculiar happened -- I realized that, of all the things I could forget about FF7, I forgot about Cloud's own struggle with his memories, about all the mundane things he did remember, and the few crucial things he couldn't.
I'm not usually sure how to describe the feeling of immersion or personal investment we get when playing games, but that moment of realization for me was the most a game had ever resonated with me."
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For others GS community members, Final Fantasy 7 had an even more transformational effect -- ranging from opening the door to new game genres, all the way to establishing a whole way of life. Staff writer Justin_Michael's time with the game fits in with the former and takes into account every minute detail of the game.
"The first time that I played Final Fantasy 7, I was around 13 and had never played a JRPG before. Up until that point, I played mostly platformers or shooter titles -- so when my friend lent me his copy, I had no idea what I was in for. I remember how impressed I was with the cinematics and how immersive the story was.
...I felt like I had a connection with the characters, so much so that I actually got a Fenrir tattoo! And man, was I pissed when Sephiroth killed Aeris, as I had spent hours upon hours leveling her up.
The minigames were also a great touch, my favorite being the Fort Condor minigame where you had to buy troops to fend off waves of Shinra forces. All-in-all, FF7 was my gateway to RPGs -- one of my favorite genres to play now."
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Guide Editor Ashley Gill reminisced about how Final Fantasy VII's epic story not only introduced her to a new style of game, but also offered her a new way of interacting with other people.
"Final Fantasy 7 was my first console RPG and my first PlayStation game. We were really poor when I was growing up, so I basically just played NES at home until 1998. My mom started making more money and got married, so I made the jump to Genesis and then to PSX pretty quickly. We got FF7 from a pawn shop, not sure if it was used or not.
I'd played PlayStation games before at friends' houses, but nothing prepared me for the overall experience of FF7. It completely blew me away.
The funny thing was, I didn't have a memory card for a good two weeks after I got my PlayStation. I'd come home from school or spend the weekends just playing the first few hours of the game again. For a couple days I just let it sit overnight, you know, as we did in the cartridge eras. I got pretty good at rushing through Midgar by the time I got my memory card.
I didn't know spanning stories existed in games before FF7, and it completely changed my taste in games. I went from FF7 to Xenogears, FFT, Legend of Legaia, Tales of Destiny -- those were my first real non-text-based RPGs. And of course, I wandered to the AOL message boards for many of these games and ingrained myself into their communities. That set the stage for my social life moving forward, though whether that's good or bad is subjective.
I don't like to say something as cheesy as 'Final Fantasy 7 changed my life', because I'm contrarian to a fault and that's just not my style. But if not for it, I never would have found their communities and forged the years-long relationships I did. Not to mention experiencing some pretty ace games."
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Community contributor Amy Turnbull's experience with FF7 was similarly formative, though she is not quite so reticent about crediting it with shaping the course she took in life.
"The Final Fantasy games were my introduction to the world of JRPGs (and RPGs in general). Though FF7 wasn’t my first game in the series (that credit goes to FF9), it is the one that left the longer-lasting impression, and solidified my love for the genre to this day.
The first time I played FF7, I found that I was very soon drawn into the individual characters’ storylines. I wanted to know more. Who were these people? What were their histories? Where would they – and I as the player – be headed together? I even found myself experiencing another first – that I was just as invested in the antagonist’s storyline as the protagonists’. Instead of my usual attitude surrounding the bad guy in games (basically, beat that bugger then relish in the subsequent glory), I wanted to know everything I could about this alluring being. I craved Sephiroth’s story just as much as I craved Cloud Strife’s. There was just something very intriguing about all of these characters that left me wanting to learn more, and so I was quickly hooked in my need to experience this game in its entirety.
FF7 is a huge game (multiple discs huge!), and I found myself playing it at every spare opportunity. It was a little overwhelming at times, as I was still not used to the vastness of RPGs. There wasn’t just the main storyline to complete, but all the wonderful little side-quests, and so many random battles along the way. I’d played video games for a good 10 years before finding FF7, but this was the first time I was bitten by the completionist bug. I couldn’t get enough of it!
From that moment on, the Final Fantasy games became a favourite series of mine, and though I’ve continued to play many of the newer releases as they’ve come out, there is something very special about FF7 that just can’t seem to be topped.
It’s also the game that propelled me into the online gaming community. Never before had I thought to seek out other gamers online, but after a little Googling, I found a rich fan community with discussions, fanart, articles, and so much more dedicated to this rich game. And just like that, I came to find a seemingly endless world of content dedicated to every game you could think of. I guess, in a way, FF7 paved the way to the point I’m at today – contributing to that very same community as a games journalist, something teenage me never could have imagined as a possibility. Yep, this game definitely deserves the very special place it holds in my heart."
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These reflections certainly demonstrate Final Fantasy VII's quality and enduring strengths. But they do more than that. They show how influential good games (like good books) can be. Whether they shape the way we view and evaluate other games, sit snugly alongside some of our happiest childhood memories, or continue to affect our lives in the present, they leave their mark and shape the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
Image via Final Fantasy Wiki
What are your memories of when you first played Final Fantasy VII, and how did it change your approach to games and gaming? Share your story with us down in the comments!